Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't I know you from another life?

For about the millionth time in recent history, I'm laid up sick. Not surprisingly, I seem to have contracted cat scratch fever.  Other than a very short burst of actual fever, I feel fine, but my forearms are ridiculously swollen and I can't drive or do much of anything. Typing hurts too, but I'm bored.

I've lately discovered that I'm highly susceptible to binge-watching. My latest thing has been ghost hunting shows, which has led to another interesting discovery: the only dead people who insistently come back are long-haired women from the Victorian era in white (occasionally black) dresses. They account for easily 90% of reported apparitions.

It struck me as odd. I mean, do flappers and Colonial belles simply not have the amount of unfinished business held by their Victorian sisters? I think I've pieced it together.

a) Most of the supposedly haunted houses are themselves Victorian, so it makes sense.  Why Victorian houses? Well, the architecture of the day was pretty freaky. If anything screams "I AM HAUNTED!!!" it's one of those carpenter Gothic or Queen Anne horrors.

b)White or black dresses, because photography was black and white.  Some pictures were hand tinted, but most people have only seen Victorian women in what appears to be a black or a white dress.  The dress may actually have been pale blue, but it looks white in the photo, so... that's the mental image people have, and they're not shaking it.

c)Long hair--well, I still don't get this one. Almost all women of the Victorian period DID have long hair, but they also dressed it elaborately; it rarely just hung down the back.  So, it wouldn't have LOOKED especially long.

d)Always women, because the picture of a woman in an elaborate dress pining away in a ruined mansion is much more romantic than one of a doofy middle aged male banker.

e)Most people in the US don't really fully understand what "Victorian" means.  Victoria reigned (and not in this country) from 1837 to 1901. At that, the freaky architecture most associated with being "Victorian" was really a result of the 1880s and 90s, nearing the end of her rule.  However, in the first twenty-five years of the 20th century, fashions in everything became much simpler.  Architecture finally got a hold of itself, and women's fashions became less elaborate--and shorter--for skirts and hair.  The average person now simply thinks that anything "REAL old" is Victorian. Woman in a long dress, even one from the 1780s? Victorian. Old house (built 1745)?  Victorian. Long hair (1972)? Victorian.

This is not perhaps a universally applicable assessment. In Virginia, where we are obsessed with our glorious Colonial past and to a slightly lesser extent with the Recent Unpleasantness, people are forever seeing the ghosts of Jefferson and Lee.  Our lady ghosts tend to be English nobility visiting their relatives in the Colonies or a Wartime belle proudly serving her children bread and water while the Yankee guns threaten Petersburg.

That last, though, really WOULD be "AVictorian Lady."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Barbies of Richmond

When Barbie turned fifty a few years ago, it seemed like every city in the country came up with its own Barbies.  Richmond joined the bandwagon too.  Last night I was explaining this concept to a friend who hadn't seen them.  We agreed that the problem with the Richmond list was that it didn't really include much of the city; most of the Barbie variations hailed from the suburban and rural areas.  I decided it was necessary to create Barbies who actually lived in Richmond.  After all, a real Richmond Barbie, no matter her socioethnic background (you'd be amazed how snobby plastic can be!) would have NO use for a Barbie who came from outside the city, whether that  "outside" meant Sandston or Goochland County.  So here we go--the Barbies of Richmond.

Monument Avenue Barbie is still hot at age 40 after going through two husbands--the ill-advised Senior Year Beach Week Ken and Surgical Intern Ken.  Husband #3, Investment Banker Ken, moved here from Atlanta two years ago.  Monument Avenue Barbie grew up in Virginia Beach but this Ken enabled her to live on Monument Avenue, where she now spends a lot of time making sure that her interior design "preserves the grandeur of the home but works with a modern lifestyle." This means that she's painted everything white and has Picasso knockoffs and one Persian rug.  Since Investment Banker Ken works about 80 hours a week, she has time to befriend Iraq War Burnout G.I. Joe, who works in her modernized yet tasteful garden--usually with his shirt off. Accessories: Prada-inspired suit, shoes and evening gown, annoying yappy dog, Joe's baseball cap (under her bed).

Boulevard Barbie is a girl on the go.  She lives in an apartment with three other women she met at the corporate meet-n-greet after she was hired at the JMU career fair. Pair her up with Boulevard Ken, who lives in a similar but much grimier apartment with three college buddies. Accessories: Honda that Dad bought her to take to college, mix-n-match business pumps and Reeboks, ficus tree, cat, keg.

Fan Barbie wears an exquisite caftan crafted in a third world country.  She and Start-Up Ken discovered Richmond back in the late 80s.  Her accessories include more caftans, a sari, a Little Black Dress, two dogs, four cats, a New Yorker subscription and a coffee mug. She likes to hang out at independent coffee shops and keep up on the latest insightful articles--but she's voted Republican since the day she turned 30.

Church Hill Barbie is the Barbie you don't want to run into at a party.  Her accessories include a pair of Boyfriend Jeans, a power drill and several chickens.  She is actually from an old Virginia family but grew up in Cleveland.  She was very excited about moving back to Richmond because of all its history and looks down on the Fan because it's so bourgeois and doesn't have REAL history like Church Hill (which explains why she has gutted the first floor of her house so she can have an Open Floor Plan).  Her Life Partner is VCU Art Professor Ken. She is on every neighborhood committee ever created, which is why all of her neighbors hate her.

Windsor Farms Barbie might be getting on in years, but she's still a knockout in her Ann Taylor knockoff. Her accessories are almost innumerable since she's Junior League, is on the Symphony board, the Art Museum board, garden club, Garden Week board, Women's League, and has at some point attended every charity ball, cotillion and "At Home" since the dawn of time. She comes with a silver cocktail set that was a wedding gift to her grandparents in 1913. She uses this every day since she strongly suspects Tobacco Company Exec Ken is having things to do with his secretary. Sold separately: Dream House, an exact replica of Berkeley and is furnished with period Virginia furniture, including three portraits of Byrd family members to whom she is actually, but very distantly, related; black Lincoln Town Car.

Westhampton Barbie is always perky in her coordinated Ship 'n Shore outfit! There's not too much to say about her because she's been in a bad mood for ten years.  Her accessories include an English Sheepdog and genteel ladies' sporting equipment. (Sold separately: Lincoln Navigator, which she uses to bully people who don't live in Westhampton.)  She's happiest with Trinity English Teacher Ken, but she's married to Corporate Lawyer Ken--who is having an affair with Botetourt County Stretch Armstrong.

There you go, you cretins--there are the Barbies for the tonier parts of town.  Tomorrow, because we're very equal opportunity here at the Colonial, we'll examine the Barbies from less fashionable climes.